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When you look at the fantasy that is Paris and the Moulin Rouge in Baz Luhrmann’s eye popping romantic musical tragedy, you’re looking at virtual reality in the service of cinema, reports Andrew L. Urban.

If Baz Luhrmann is the painter whose vision is painted onto the screen to create the world of Moulin Rouge, Animal Logic is his paintbrush and his palette. And more. In this intensley design driven musical, visual effects design was critical to the film’s final realisation. It started out requiring just 30 special effects shot - and ended up with over 300, the largest gig for Animal Logic’s team.

“Baz Luhrmann’s imagination was as fired by the process itself as anything else,” says Animal Logic Visual Effects Designer Andrew Brown, who also worked on Jane Campion’s Holy Smoke, as well as The Fatal Shore and Mouse Hunt. The variety of his credits reflect Animal Logic’s acceptance as part of the global filmmaking community, after pioneering high end special effects work for over a decade.

“It was exhilirating...”

For Moulin Rouge, Animal Logic Film also provided art directors, matt painters and concept artists. Located on the Fox lot in central Sydney (with its original base still operating across the Harbour Bridge on high end tv commercials), Animal Logic showcases its wares on a new website - www.animallogic.com - which demonstrates its strong ties to function-driven concepts, with great flair - and a sense of playfulness and fun.

Moulin Rouge was fun, says Brown, in a big way. “It inspired us, it inspired Baz Luhrmann and I think it will inspire others on how to use visual effects. It was exhilirating . . .

“a believable fairy tale musical”

“We were still doing work at the end of February . . .Baz wanted as much visual detail in every frame as possible and the biggest challenge of all was to get him to lock down!” Brown says the process that energized Luhrmann also energised the whole team. “He would come in every day and spend about half an hour just going through his ideas for what the scene would be and involving everyone. It was a very collaborative relationship. He treated us almost like actors.”

He also stretched them all; at no stage were the images in the film were to look real, but they had to be believable. It was a believable fairy tale musical that had to be imagined from a montage of Paris shots, which were than abandoned as a fantasy Paris was created.

“the cultural hub of Paris”

Animal Logic’s Justen Marshall wrote a plug-in street map of Paris, for example, which randomly generates buildings in the distance. The team also created some unique particle animation for the Green Fairy sequence featuring Kylie Minogue.

Luhrmann’s view was that Montmartre was the cultural hub of Paris and everything outside that was inconsequential and boring. In fact, everything else outside it was reduced to miniature, shot with motion control cameras.

“fantasy-driven nature”

To create the striking, nostalgically surreal opening shot over Paris, “the front frame and mid-ground uses photos in a 3D environment, and beyond that we built 3D model building, “ Brown explains. “We didn’t have much by way of references to work with,” says Brown, “so one of our designers flew over to Paris and took a bunch of collage shots, from the top of the Eifel Tower and the top of Montparnasse.

This establishing wide shot, the Paris vista, carries within it one of the driving design concepts that appeals to Luhrmann, which imagines a central axis running through the frame. In this case, it runs between the Eifel Tower, the Moulin Rouge and Sacre Coeur (which was being built at the time of the film’s setting). This requires a slight rearrangement of the real Paris, but considering the fantasy-driven nature of the whole musical, it would seem churlish (not to mention pointless) to complain.

“The visual effects are a part of the jigsaw”

Animal Logic’s style of working had to adapt to this new, fluid style that Luhrmann bought with him: “on The Matrix, everything was storyboarded and mapped out,” Brown says. “But for this, the way baz works, you have to finish something and show it to him, then he’ll throw it back with new elements and ideas that twist it. The look and feel was never really a fixed thing.

“The image feels like a postcard,” comments Brown, “until you push into it visually...” Brown says the visual effects work on the live actors was minimal; “we enhanced the diamond sparke around Nicole’s fabulous necklace and we had to move a kissing couple into a different scene [background].”

The essential stylistic guide meant that everything had to be related to the music “and it had to play to the rhythm of the film to the nth degree. But after all,” Brown adds, “it is a musical and a love drama, with powerful, uplifting music. The visual effects are a part of the jigsaw that give the film its emotional impact.”

Published May 31, 2001

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